There are rumors swirling around that US President Trump intends to replace his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, with Mike Pompeo, the current Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). It has not been a secret that Mr. Trump and Mr. Tillerson have a difficult relationship. When Mr. Trump wanted to isolate Qatar from other Gulf allies, Mr. Tillerson tried to mediate among them. Mr. Trump gave the Israeli-Palestinian portfolio, one of the most important issues for the State Department to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. There were even reports that Mr. Tillerson referred to Mr. Trump as a “moron”. Mr. Pompeo is likely to be more in line with Mr. Trump’s objectives, but he has a reputation for being a hard-liner. In October, Mr. Pompeo gave a speech in which he compared Iran to ISIS and called the regime “a thuggish police state” (one should remember that Iran is a Shia state and ISIS is comprised of Sunnis–it is hardly likely that the two would ever cooperate). As a Congressperson, Mr. Pompeo was adamantly opposed to the Iranian nuclear deal.
The rumor also suggests that Mr. Trump would place Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) as the new Director of the CIA. Senator Cotton has a distinguished track record, but, if appointed, he would the youngest Director of the CIA ever and he has no experience in matters of intelligence collection and assessment. Paul Pillar, a 28-year veteran of the CIA, and one who charged the President Bush Administration of “cherry-picking” the intelligence over Iraq’s development of weapons of mass destruction, simply said: “This is an awful appointment….Sen.Cotton is a highly ideological individual who is not well-suited to lead an agency part of whose core mission is objective analysis.” (disclaimer, Paul was a personal college friend). Senator Cotton is also adamantly opposed to the Iranian nuclear deal. He delivered a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations which is one of the hardest-lines I have ever read on the nuclear deal. Senator Cotton is also a strong advocate for the use of torture, including waterboarding despite the fact that the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluded in 2014 that “use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of obtaining accurate information or gaining detainee cooperation.”
After the recent North Korean missile test, US President Trump indicated that the US would ratchet up the sanctions on North Korea. There are probably few additional sanctions that the US could impose. Instead, the US is hoping that China will cut off its exports of oil to North Korea and its food assistance. The US still does not understand that China has no interest in a political collapse in North Korea which would likely be the result of such draconian measures. In the Global Times which often serves as a mouthpiece for the China government, there was an editorial which should dash whatever hopes Mr. Trump has for increased Chinese pressure:
“Whatever North Korea did, it is wrong to impose a full trade embargo or to sever ties with the country. China has no obligation to cooperate with the US on this impractical idea. The US has no right to direct China or the UN Security Council.
“Recently the US media began to recognize China’s efforts, acknowledging that China cannot stop Pyongyang’s nuclear program. We believe that Pyongyang is beginning to recognize too that when it continues to test missiles and nuclear weapons, China cannot stop it from being punished.
“The possibility of a war on the Korean Peninsula is rising and it is not decided by China. China’s strategy should be maintaining its independent stance and principles, pushing the UN Security Council to craft the most reasonable policy and refusing to yield to either sides’ extreme requests, be they from Washington or Pyongyang.
“China will face whatever comes next. Beijing is fully prepared to use its prowess to defend its national interest. China owes no one anything, and other countries must know this.”
If there is no likelihood of additional sanctions, the US is left with two options if it persists in its objective of “denuclearizing” North Korea: a military attack or accepting North Korea’s status as a nuclear power and resorting to the policy of deterrence which the US currently relies upon with respect to China’s and Russia’s nuclear status. It may be the case that the latter option might appeal to the North Koreans.